A sustained effort

01 Jun 10

In April, Greenpeace announced its Cool IT Leaderboard to show how some global

IT companies are creating solutions that address climate change and reshape energy use.

The Leaderboard ranks company leadership on reducing carbon footprint, advocating for effective climate and energy policies, and putting forward solutions to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. In the third iteration of the challenge, Cisco with 62 points and Ericsson with 53 are out in front. Indeed Cisco doubled its score from the last version of the Leaderboard, thanks to the effectiveness of the greenhouse emissions-saving solutions including its smart grid technology and office energy management.

What the Leaderboard demonstrates is that green IT is not just about recycling anymore. Energy efficiency has come to the fore as an important way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and even improving GDP.

The drive for sustainability must be a holistic effort and nowhere is this more apparent than in San Francisco. I was recently in The Golden Gate City, courtesy of Cisco, which was holding its Global Partner Summit, and, as I strolled the city streets, I noticed banners proclaiming the place as ‘Sustainable San Francisco’. This warranted further investigation and after a stint online in my hotel room, I found out some interesting facts. For example, the city has banned plastic bags and instituted a mandatory recycling and composting law that has lead to serious reductions of greenhouse gases, with 137,000 tons of methane production avoided since1996.

International visitors to San Francisco Airport can be the first in the USA to offset the missions of their flights by swiping their credit cards  through one of three Climate Passport Kiosks, while the Nalgene Least Wasteful City Study ranked San Francisco at the top – the city is aiming for zero waste by 2020 (it’s currently sitting at a 70% recycling rate).

The city’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, under whose leadership the city has become a centre for biotech and ‘clean tech’, is a major advocate

of sustainability and eco-friendly living. According to his website, Newsom “aggressively pursued local solutions to global climate change”, and has launched new environmental initiatives and a comprehensive strategy to transform one of the city’s most troubled neighbourhoods into a life sciences, digital media and clean tech centre.

Added to this, there is the redevelopment of Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island, the  vision for which is to create a group of new neighbourhoods that are an international exemplar of sustainable development.

There are goals to improve efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero across energy, building, land use, transportation, water and waste.

San Francisco is taking advantage of the latest innovation and pairing it with good policy-making at the government level. This is something that Vernon Turner, IDC’s Senior Vice President of Research for ICT & Sustainability, believes is the way forward. Talking exclusively to IT Brief after an IDC briefing in Auckland, he said while we need policy-making, the implementation process often takes too long and can become too politicised.

For example, Turner explains that ‘smart grids’ gather a lot more information about how the energy in an office or home is being used. It's an invaluable piece of equipment in the aim of reducing energy consumption. Unfortunately, we become “bogged down” as Turner puts it, in the freedom and security of this information and who owns it, instead of focusing on the fact that by deploying smart grids we can be significantly more energy-efficient and spend less money.

For sustainability initiatives to really succeed, you need a global and national broadband infrastructure that enables smart grids to gather  information. The smart grids then apply real-time sustainability analytics that have feeds to your PC or phone to help you be more energy-efficient. For example, real-time information could be used to plot the best way through peak-hour traffic in an electrically-powered vehicle that is running low on power. To do this, information needs to be readily available and shared across a network of applications. “Unless you do that all the green IT that you have in the world, all that information, is not worth a hill of beans,” says Turner.

“What we try to do at IDC is we acknowledge there is a need for  government involvement in carbon emissions and reductions, but really we think that ICT left to its own devices with some guidelines will be able to do a faster and better job.”

A direct approach to energy efficiency is likely to lead to a greener world and have a direct effect on the country’s GDP. In this, green is an outcome, not a driver. Until recently CIOs have not had to worry a great deal about energy use; it was just budgeted for by the CFO. These days, things have changed; demand for power is increasing dramatically and our power stations are struggling to keep up with it.

This means that you, as CIOs and IT decision-makers, need to understand where energy is being consumed, where it is being wasted and how much CO2 you are producing. A report by the Uptime Institute recently noted that London city government will soon begin to publish energy consumption by street address, so CIOs with energy-hungry data centres will be all but named and shamed.

Every IT project undertaken needs to have a green component attached to it, and in this case Turner suggests it should be energy efficiency. We need a far greater degree of transparency when it comes to how much energy each tiny component of our technology requires; we don’t tend to consider how much energy it takes to actually power a specific application or to run a particular workload. This includes the energy required to host free applications, the financial burden of which has traditionally been absorbed by the energy providers and telcos.

Turner suggests every IT project should consider the design and functionality aspects of the solution, and how much it  will actually cost in terms of energy to run the project.  “If we look at servers, we are at a point now where the annual cost to run a server is 70% of the cost of purchasing it,” he says.

Due to commoditisation, he anticipates that in about 2012 it will become more expensive to run the server than it does to purchase it.  At present the acquisition cost is the deciding factor, not the operating cost, but that will need to change and will likely lead to a much greener IT solution.

Turner urges: “The data centre or IT facilities planners need to talk to the CFOs, costing and charge-back need to talk to the CIOs. They need to be in sync so that the CIO can stand back and say ‘this is the real cost of doing business’.”

At the end of last year, IDC announced its ICT Sustainability Index (which ranks countries on their potential to reduce greenhouse gases using ICT) and New Zealand was measured for the first time, achieving the very high score of 21. This put New Zealand in joint third place, behind Japan (16) and USA (20), and alongside Brazil, France, Germany and the UK. Turner was highly encouraged by this result, saying: “The country with the most sustainable economy is Japan. The only difference between Japan and New Zealand is that Japan’s sourcing of energy is fossil and nuclear. 

“What was important to me was coming here and showing New Zealand as a nation that comparing yourself to the G20 could be done, in terms of the sustainability index,” he concluded.

With the right mix of policy and innovation we can move towards a more sustainable way of doing business with ICT, and perhaps one day we will even rival San Francisco for the ‘clean tech’ crown. 

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